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In op-ed, A&M professor makes case for drastic restructuring of Texas higher ed system

In an op-ed published in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Texas A&M University associate professor of history Jonathan Coopersmith argues for a radical restructuring of higher education in Texas to address bureaucratic overlap.

Coopersmith points out that the sudden and possibly involuntary resignation of Mike McKinney as the chancellor of the Texas A&M System “provides the opportunity to rethink the structure of public university education in Texas. The result could save taxpayers millions of dollars and produce better universities.”

The Texas A&M and University of Texas systems comprise 20 institutions (excluding medical centers, extension services and other agencies). Both the A&M and UT systems are dominated by their flagship, Tier 1 research universities.

College Station has 49,000 of the 115,000 A&M students, with Prairie View and Tarleton State next with 8,600 students each. Austin has 51,000 of the 198,000 UT students, with UT Arlington the next largest with 33,000 students.

Neither system is a true system, but rather a collection of universities that really are not connected. The system administrators, as administrators everywhere, have tried to impose a seeming orderliness and bureaucratic coherence from the top. But one size does not fit all.

A university of 49,000 students has a different structure and needs than one a 10th the size. The result is an expensive system bureaucracy that adds little value to the individual universities, but does demand a large number of administrators both within the system and at each university whose jobs are to create and coordinate regulations and rules.

Coopersmith makes the case that Texas should take a cue from California and group the state’s tier-one institutions (A&M and The University of Texas at Austin) together into a university system, then group the state’s smaller institutions into another system. The so-called “emerging research universities,” such as Texas Tech University, University of Houston and UT-Dallas, would join the A&M/UT-Austin system when they achieved tier-one status. He wrote:

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, we can learn from California, which has a three-tier system: the Universities of California, the California State Universities, and the community colleges. Similar schools with similar challenges share a system.

What would happen if UT and A&M, both retaining their justly proud heritage, formed the Tier 1 system, and the other universities formed a second system? Taxpayers and the universities would benefit from eliminating costly, duplicate administration and eliminating counterproductive regulations.

Coopersmith admits that restructuring the A&M and UT systems would be politically challenging.

“Which regents would remain with the flagships and which would remain with the other universities?” he asks. “Would former and current students accept a restructuring? The educational and financial benefits of restructuring, however, should outweigh the political upheaval.”

Read Coopersmith’s full piece here.

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